Experimenting with Infrared Photography

I'm a big fan of trying new things in photography and was kindly given an infrared camera recently that wasn't being used by a friend. I'll be honest, I haven't really felt a pull towards trying infrared photography and I wasn't sure what use I would have for it considering my focus has been on film photography recently. That said the camera was gratefully received a couple of weeks ago and I promised to give it a try.

The camera is a Canon G10 with a 720nm conversion. This is a point and shoot camera from 2009 with a 14.7MP sensor. It's a great little camera and I particularly like the analog controls and dials on the body, something sadly missing from most of the current modern cameras (Fuji aside).

The Canon G10 with 720nm infrared conversion

The Canon G10 with 720nm infrared conversion

Funnily enough it was my complaints about the appalling summer weather we have been having (the worst in 100 years) that led to the camera being offered to me i.e. perhaps I could get some interesting cloud details in IR seeing as cloud is all we are getting at the moment!

Anyway, the first venture out was on a dog walk in the local neighbourhood. Being a point and shoot, it's easy to carry and hand hold so I slung it around my neck and off we went. 

I took a few snaps and on getting home loaded them up in Lightroom. Initial impressions were that the images were extremely different and captured some unusual details. Clouds are certainly rendered dramatically. Greenery is rendered almost snow white, which I already knew, but when contrasted against backgrounds (sky, water, walls) it stood out in a very unique way.

Editing wise I did a cursory read of a couple of posts relating to infrared processing and played with both black and white and colour images. Both appeal but I can see great potential for unique black and white work moving forward.

One note I want to make at this point is that I have purposely not spent hours reading and researching how to post process infrared images (and it may well show). It's not often we are able to approach something in photography without having a preconceived idea of how things should be done or how things should look. I therefore deliberately wanted to minimise the influence of other infrared photographers, aside from understanding the very basics, in order to create my own images and style. We shall see whether this works!

A couple of days later we took a trip out to Nesjavellir and the area around Þingvellir with our dogs. I took all my normal photography equipment but only ended up reaching for and using the Canon G10. 

I was pretty pleased with the results. It was another grey day but I was able to find a few different subjects which I thought would work well and I enjoyed playing around with post processing in black and white and in colour depending on the scene. When it is possible to get some colour from the sky I can see the potential IR offers in brighter conditions (when it is more traditionally used). That said, in grey conditions I really like that it can create real drama from the clouds. I even had a play with stitching a panorama together as seen in the beach image above.

One thing I did notice is that there is more noise in the images than I am used to. This despite keeping the ISO at a very low 80. I imagine this is due to the nearly 10 year old sensor technology and it isn't a huge issue. In fact it gave me an idea to experiment with stacking and averaging images of the same scene in the future to reduce the noise and possibly even create larger super resolution images (similar to how pixel shift works in modern cameras).

I ventured out again last week to explore a road that has been closed all winter and which only just reopened. This wasn't intended to be a photography trip, more of a scouting mission to determine if the road was passable. As such I grabbed the little G10 and headed out. Here are some images from the journey. 

I again found myself really enjoying using the G10. Aside from infrared still being a novelty for me, having a point and shoot, and therefore a portable little camera, was also extremely helpful. I forget how limiting it can be sometimes to heft around a DSLR or film camera with a set of lenses and associated accessories. Being able to grab the camera, flick it on and grab an image was refreshing. These images show me the potential of infrared when there is good light. The landscape can be lit up with what almost appear to be floodlights. Combined with a dramatic sky, I can see myself really enjoying this type of dramatic IR photography in the future. I only wish that Mamma Sheep had looked up when the light was on the hill but unfortunately she didn't.

A final panorama

A final panorama

So this has been my first foray into infrared photography and I'm by no means an expert or producing amazing work. I am enjoying it immensely though and I think this is the most important thing. It opens up some new creative opportunities for me with the landscapes here and I definitely see myself adding it to my portfolio as my skills and understanding improve. I am very grateful to Richard Stern in the US for sending me his camera and encouraging me to give it a try - thank you Richard!

Iceland Travel Guide Incoming!

  • UPDATE! This is now available to buy from the links below!

Hey guys,

Just a quick heads up to say that this useful guide is being released next week (9th July). It's a short read but contains plenty of useful information for anyone coming to Iceland or planning to come to Iceland. My extremely talented wife put it together and of course I'm biased in saying that I think it's great!

It's called "Essential Traveller Tips to Know BEFORE You Visit Iceland" and it's currently available for pre-order as an ebook from Amazon.

Amazon UK - https://goo.gl/shnFRq

Amazon US - https://goo.gl/xDRrD8

Don't Break the Rules!

There are many blog posts and videos about breaking the rules in photography. This post isn't actually about this. I personally believe that you should use or not use whatever rules you want to create images that you like.

No, this blog is about some of the rules and guidelines that we have in Iceland that are worth knowing about before you visit. I have picked a few common ones that I feel are the most important to be aware of. When people ignore these or break them they make national news here so they're not insignificant.

Don't Duck Ropes to Closed Off Areas...

...or ignore the signs restricting access to these areas. At many of the tourist locations you will come across areas that have been closed off. These can be marked by a simple sign or small rope barrier. Whilst they may seem easy to circumvent, and the area closed off may call out for you to hop over that rope, please don't! 

There are two main reasons these areas are closed off. 

For your own safety. The changing landscape here can mean that once safe footpaths may have eroded and may lead to a dangerous cliff, crevasse or other peril. In areas where there are geothermal hot springs for example, the ground can be extremely weak and the possibility of falling through into a vent is real. Honestly, even if you think the area looks safe, if it has been closed, please do not ignore the signs.

For the protection of the wildlife. We have a very delicate ecosystem here in Iceland. The extreme weather and wild swings between seasons means that there are only small windows for the wildlife to do what it needs to survive and flourish each year. As such, the authorities often mark areas off as being closed for the protection and regeneration of an area. Or they may close an area where there are nesting birds (usually July to September). Unfortunately, with the larger number of visitors to Iceland, areas are becoming damaged faster and for longer. Therefore more and more areas are being closed to allow them to regenerate.

Here is one example where Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was closed to allow it to regenerate: 

Canyon Closed to Protect Vegetation Damage

One month later, note the updated story:

Visitors Causing Serious Damage to Canyon

Iceland_2015_fjadrargljufur_jamestomas.jpeg

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South Iceland

I appreciate that people visit Iceland on once-in-a-lifetime trips and therefore finding one of the most popular areas closed can be frustrating. Please note that if you decide to ignore those closures, your once-in-a-lifetime trip can have much longer term consequences for the vegetation and wildlife here. For example, the moss is extremely delicate, takes many years to grow and just the simple act of walking on it can be enough to damage it for decades! I always take care, even when walking in marked areas, to avoid standing on any of the vegetation here.

Don't Drive Where You Aren't Supposed to

This may seem like obvious advice but it still happens. This is also something that is split into two areas.

Firstly, don't ignore the signs if it says that the road ahead is closed or impassable. This happens most often during the winter when some of the smaller roads are not cleared and the authorities just close them. Some of these closures are only marked by a small bollard which is seemingly easy to get around. Please don't! Our fantastic rescue service has been far too busy in recent years as people have found themselves in difficulties. Even some of the major roads can quickly become dangerous in difficult weather conditions so try to imagine how bad a road can get for it to be closed off for 6 months.

I am currently still waiting for one road to reopen nearby here. You can see it marked on the image below. I know this road and it's bad even when it's open. Considering that it's now late May and still hasn't opened, it must be pretty awful. As desperate as I am to get to a location along here, I will wait until it goes green before even trying it!

Note the red road towards the bottom of the map which is still closed at the end of May

Note the red road towards the bottom of the map which is still closed at the end of May

For the best up to date information on road conditions in Iceland, please visit: www.road.is. I have also written a separate blog all about driving in Iceland here.

The second thing I'd like to mention about driving is to please stick only to marked roads and tracks. There have been quite a few controversies over the years here where people have taken their cars off roads and onto beaches or other areas to either get somewhere or just have fun driving about. As with ignoring closed areas, this can be dangerous for you and damaging to the environment.

I actually contacted one influential photography YouTuber, Peter McKinnon, about this after he posted up a video of them driving off road to the plane wreck on the south coast. He removed this footage from the video after I pointed out the potential damage he could have caused. It may have looked like great fun but he was bouncing and driving over areas where Arctic Terns are known to nest. 

Don't Chase Waves

This may go hand-in-hand with not ignoring signs but I think it's deserving of its own mention. There are two very popular locations (among many) where it's possible to visit black sand and pebble beaches. These are Reynisfjara in the south and Djúpalónssandur in the west. At both of these beaches there are big, clear signs warning of "sneaker waves". 

There is an article about this written here by Guide to Iceland detailing a fatality caused by these waves along with some other very useful information. There have been more accidents since then too. 

These places are incredibly popular now and on every visit I have seen people chasing the waves or getting too close. Please take the signs seriously and don't go near the sea, even if it looks calm.

Reynisfjara beach and the Sneaker Waves

Reynisfjara beach and the Sneaker Waves

Have Fun, Be Safe, Respect the Environment

I know I have written "don't do this or that" or lot in this post but I thought it was important to provide some useful information on why some of these rules, warnings or guidelines are out there. I have spoken to a few visitors who didn't even realise why crossing a rope was a bad thing and were pleased to have been made aware about the potential danger/damage it could cause.

My advice is to follow the rules. They are there for your safety and to ensure that others can enjoy the environment in the future. If you want to visit locations that are off the beaten track or that aren't marked, hire a specialist guide or take a tour that safely lets you explore these areas without damaging you or Iceland.

Icelandic Seascape Photography - Part 2

In Part 1 of my article on Icelandic Seascape Photography I described a couple of my favourite locations for seascape photography. Luckily two of them are about a 30-40 minute drive from home for me. 

This week I go a little further afield to describe 3 other places I have enjoyed visiting around the coast.

Djúpalónssandur

This beach is located just a little drive further along from Londrangur in my last post. Following Route 574 after Londrangur you can take a little detour first to visit the Malarrif Lighthouse and visitors centre there. A good place for a comfort break too. Once back on Route 574 you continue on for a short while before reaching a turning onto Route 572 marked as "Djúpalón 2". I point this out because the beach itself isn't signposted - the 2 here signifies the 2km drive to the car park.

 

The road is paved and in good condition although it is narrow with a lot of blind corners. At the car park there is a small toilet but this is closed in the winter months. There are a few path options to choose from taking you to different points. If you have time it's worth exploring them but if you want to visit the beach take the path down into the little canyon. In winter you definitely need ice grips on your boots - I speak from experience here! Along this path you'll walk between some impressive lava formations including a hole in the rocks where I'm sure some creative framing fun could be had (it was too icy and cold on my visits to scramble about).

Following the path to the beach you will come across 4 different sized stones, if they are not covered by snow! These were a lifting game by fisherman with them competing to see which of the heaviest stones they could lift. Give it a go but be careful! You then walk up a slight rise where you'll see the wreckage of the British Trawler Epine strewn about. I think there is potential for some interesting detailed images of these parts and intend to return when there is less snow to explore more. 

Over the rise is the beach itself with it's famous smooth black pearl pebbles. Depending on the conditions, the sea here provides opportunities for some fun images. In windy conditions it crashes up onto the sea stacks. In calmer conditions it would be a nice spot to practice some long exposure photography. I still haven't visited in ideal conditions and my images so far have been more scouting images but there is lots of potential here. One word of caution: this beach is famous for its "Sneaker Waves" which can reach up remarkably high as some people discovered in this video here. Please be extremely careful here, even if it looks peaceful enough as the currents can catch you out quickly.

I personal love this beach more for the amazing rock formations that surround it. Some of the fractured lava here makes for some interesting detailed landscape images.

In short, there are a huge variety of image taking opportunities here and if you are able to, I highly recommend spending some quality time exploring the area. It's also not dissimilar to my next location but tends to be much quieter.

Reynisfjara

Ok, this one makes it on the list as it's still a fantastic location despite the exponential increase in visitors it is receiving. Located off Route 1 on the south coast, after a short drive on Route 215, is the black sand beach of Reynisfjara. There is a large car park and cafe at the entrance. Keep in mind that this place has become VERY popular. If you want to visit when there are less people I recommend the early morning/late evening when the visiting day trippers from Reykjavik haven't arrived/have left. In the summer head over in the night when it is still light anyway. Alternatively I have enjoyed it here in poor weather which offer some moody image opportunities and have the added bonus of keeping the crowds away!

 

On the beach to your left are the basalt columns which make for some interesting shapes and tower above. If you walk around the corner on the left you will see the famous sea stacks, said to be the frozen stone remains of trolls who were pulling a ship to shore but were caught by the rising sun. There are some lovely seascape image opportunities here. Long exposures would work particularly well on a calmer day as they may have the added bonus of removing the people who would be walking in and out of frame. On dramatic weather days the seas crashes up here and allows for some spectacular images. There is also a cave in the cliffs with interesting rock patterns and formations.

As with Djúpalónsandur, this beach is dangerous because of its "Sneaker Waves." In fact, people have died here having been dragged out to sea. Every time I visit I still see people playing with the incoming waves though without realising that just off the beach is a sharp drop which is where they could be dragged if one of the larger sneakers caught them. In high tide and windy conditions, don't even venture left around the cliffs as the sea can come right up to them.

The images I have shared from here are all iPhone images from my last trip in 2017. The weather was changeable to say the least. Some of the waves were spectacular and the view down towards Dyrhóley was spooky. Incidentally, Dyrhóley is another place to visit with great views on offer from the lighthouse on top of the cliffs. 

Reynisfjara is another great location to explore and you can find areas away from the crowds here still. In fact I would make a particular recommendation here. If you plan to visit this area and take in Dyrhóley, Reynisfjara and the aircraft wreck, as many typically do, I say skip the wreck. The car park is miles away from it, the walk is not very nice, it's really busy and the plane doesn't look nearly as good as it once did. I think people have stolen a lot of the parts! I would spend more time at the other locations instead.

To get some different views of the sea stacks it's also worth visiting the beach on the other side, just through Vík. Fewer people visit here for some reason but it offers some nice images.

My wife and our two dogs taking a walk on the emptier beach found by driving through Vík

My wife and our two dogs taking a walk on the emptier beach found by driving through Vík

Húsavík to Hringsbjarg

This is less of a single location but instead a drive I would highly recommend which offers up some lovely opportunities to see the coast in the north of Iceland. I have only driven it once but I'm desperate to get back up there with my big camera and try to capture some of the coastline.

Húsavík is a pretty fishing town in the far north of Iceland. You reach it from Akureyri following Route 1 towards Mývatn before taking Route 85 north towards the coast.

 

 

There is a great fish restaurant in Húsavík called Fjaran where we had a lovely lunch overlooking the picturesque harbour. Here there opportunities to photograph some of the pretty fishing and tour boats and colourful buildings in the town. This would also be a good place to take in a whale sight seeing tour. I believe that these are only possible in the summer but this may have changed. This could provide an interesting opportunity for some unique nature photography and the advantage with this location over others is that it receives less traffic. You are therefore likely to get onto a quieter tour.

From Húsavík the road hugs the coast passing numerous farms and crossing small streams and rivers. On a clear day it really is spectacular and the views out to sea are special. There are a lot of places to stop along the way to photograph the coast. I imagine in the summer during the sunny nights, this would be a great location to capture the midnight sun just dipping below the horizon - you only get full 24 hour sunlight in Iceland from the island of Grimsey which is in the Arctic Circle to the north of here. The leisurely drive probably takes about 45 minutes in total but longer if you are stopping constantly as we were. 

The images for this part of the trip are iPhone images from my honeymoon. It wasn't a photography trip for me so these are just some snaps.

At Hringsbjarg there is a small car park which sits up on the top of some very high cliffs. On a clear day you can see right across the estuary area and over to the far side of the bay. There are a lot of birds here so bring your long lens. This would be another great location to capture the midnight sun and the coastline. On a wild day I image the view may not be as spectacular although it still may be possible to capture some waves crashing into shore.

If you are up this far north already I can recommend camping in Ásbyrgi which has good facilities and is very quiet. Plus the Ásbyrgi canyon is spectacular and empty. I want to revisit there this year and if I do will write up a separate post on this special location.

There are many more places to visit along the coast of Iceland including the grand east fjords, the west fjords and also the islands. I'm sure I will add to my posts in the future with other blogs about some of them but for now, this wraps up some of my favourite spots around the country for seascape photography.

 

 

 

Plane Spotting - The Reykjavik Airshow

Alongside photography, I have another passion: aviation. Aircraft and flight have always fascinated me and it was part of the reason I decided to study Aerospace Engineering at university. It isn't often that I get to combine my two interests but last June, we decided to pop down to Reykjavik Airport and visit the Reykjavik Airshow. I took along my camera of course.

Reykjavik Airport is slightly unusual in that it is just on the edge of the city centre. Therefore in the right weather conditions, when you are in town, you will often see and hear the Air Iceland prop planes roaring very low overhead as they go in to land. For the airshow there is lots of parking around the airport area although there are traffic queues to get in. I'd actually recommend parking in town and taking the nice walk over to the airport which will probably take about 20-30 minutes.

Entry to the show was free and once in the airport grounds there were a number of static aircraft on display. There were aircraft with tundra wheels, presumably for those pilots wishing to explore difficult to reach areas of the country. There were also a number of aerobatic aircraft including some impressive bi-planes. Keilir Aviation Academy sent two of their pilots and one of their Diamond DA20 training aircraft along - I have been lucky enough to go up in one of their bigger DA40 aircraft for a flight around Reykjanes. You can see a cheesy YouTube video of this here: Flying in Iceland. All the aircraft were accessible with some open to allow people to sit in the cockpits. There were also companies showing off their impressive film drone collections. Alongside DJI consumer drones were some incredible eight prop professional filming drones.

In the early afternoon the air display started. It was pretty impressive for such a small show. Small private aircraft did fly pasts, sometimes in formation. There were aerobatics which looked impressive against the backdrop of the city. And then there were the stars of the show, the Icelandair aircraft.

Icelandair had two aircraft there for the show. First was their DC-3 which Icelandair introduced into their fleet in 1946 and flew them right up until 1972! This aircraft is painted in the current Icelandair colours and I particularly like the yellow engines. I was stood behind the aircraft on start up and the engine backwash was fearsome! It was lovely to see this old aircraft flying over the city.

Next up was Icelandair's Boeing 757-200 Freighter. Icelandair has long been using 757 aircraft as their workhorses capable of flying short and long haul. This year they have started to introduce the new Boeing 737-Max but the 757 will always remain my favourite of their aircraft. We were stood right next to the aircraft and watched the pilots prepare for the display. The engine start up was predictably loud, the Rolls Royce engines making an impressive racket. AVGeek fact - the engines are the same as those on the Boeing 747 (which has 4) and as such are very high powered for the size of the aircraft. This can be felt most on take off in certain conditions when the plane literally feels like a rocket!

The aircraft performed some impressive fly pasts, especially when at high speed. It was hard to capture in camera but they put on a great display.

Last up (or was it? See below) was the Canadian Airforce CF-18 Hornet. This was easily the noisiest aircraft of the day and the hardest to photograph as it was going so quickly. In fact, I messed up my camera settings (turned auto focus off by accident) so didn't get many in flight shots. I have instead shared the annoyingly well captured silhouette that my wife took...on her iPhone!

That was supposed to be it for the show and we all started to make our ways to the exits. Suddenly, however, everyone noticed a growing roar and looking out over the city, a purple plane could be seen making its way to steal the show. Yes, young Icelandic airline WowAir was coming along to conduct their own (unplanned) display of their Airbus A321 aircraft. For the next 5 minutes it performed some maneuvers that (cough) wowed the crowd in a blatant but fun attempt to outdo rival Icelandair. I have to say I was impressed with the performance of the Airbus and the purple colour scheme looked great in the light. Well played WowAir, well played.

And that was it for the show. The private owners started moving their aircraft out for their flights home. It was nice to watch them getting ready and saying goodbye to everyone. I particularly liked seeing what I assume was a father and son heading off together. The young lad will one day realise how lucky he is to have had these experiences at such a young age.

It was a great little airshow, more so because it's open to everyone and absolutely free. They have announced the date of Saturday June 2nd 2018 for the show this year so if you find yourself stuck for something to do in Reykjavik and want to have a bit of fun, I highly recommend the heading to the Reykjavik Airshow.